Robot Entertainment’s Hero Academy is “Combat With Friends” for iOS

Hero Academy is a new iOS game from Robot Entertainment, best known for the 2011 PC and console game Orcs Must Die! It is a turn-based strategy combat game featuring asynchronous play similar to Zynga’s popular “With Friends” series along with the many board game adaptations available for the platform.

In Hero Academy, players are tasked with defending their crystals against attack by a team of enemies controlled by another player. Your opponent is drawn either from Facebook or randomly from Hero Academy’s game community.

In order to defend their crystal, players get a “rack” of items to use during every turn, similar to the letter rack used in Words and Hanging With Friends. Instead of letters, players get a combination of units, equipment and special abilities to deploy each turn, and can perform up to five actions every turn.

These actions include deploying a new unit, moving a unit, attacking an enemy unit or crystal, equipping an item (which either provides a bonus to a unit’s attack or defense or provides them with a strong single-use special attack) or using a special ability. Using an item or unit from the “rack” replaces it with a new unit or item when the turn is over. If players make a mistake while using their five actions, they can undo the moves they have made before submitting their turn.

Gameplay is asynchronous, so players can take their turn whenever it is convenient for them and receive a push notification when it is their turn again. There is an in-game chat facility allowing players to leave messages for one another, and there is an optional facility to make units “taunt” the opposing player, which forms part of Hero Academy’s unusual monetization strategy.

The game is free and ad-supported, but it also monetizes in several ways, allowing players to customize their experience. Any in-app purchase removes all advertising from the game. One team of combatants and its associated equipment and special abilities is thrown in for free, but an additional “Dark Elf” team is available for in-app purchase, providing a different combination of units, abilities and items.

Alongside this, players can pay for the option to customize their team’s colors; purchase new packs of avatars; or purchase additional “taunts” to use against their opponents. Taunts have no effect on gameplay, but are a finite resource — once they have all been used, a player must buy more.

Hero Academy’s maker Robot Entertainment seems committed to supporting the game with active social media feeds — the game’s Twitter feed can be viewed within the game itself — and has regular content updates. At this time, there are only two different teams of combatants available for players to use, and a very limited number of maps on which to battle. The menu screen promises additional combat teams in the near future, and each of these will likely be available via in-app purchase.

At the time of writing our data tracking service AppData indicates that Hero Academy is sitting at No. 298 in Top Free Apps, No. 133 in Top Free Apps Games Genre and No. 393 in Top Grossing Games. It is early days for the game as yet, and social media channels are abuzz with talk of the game — the in-game Twitter facility encourages players to discuss it using a dedicated hashtag, and the matchmaking facility also allows for viral promotion through players’ own Facebook walls and Twitter feeds.

The combination of casual-friendly asynchronous play and a game style more typically associated with “hardcore” gamers means that the future looks bright for Robot Entertainment’s iOS debut.